Rosie cursed and ran full-tilt into her room where she flung herself onto the bed. Penn was already there, legs crossed at the ankle, one arm behind his head, the other holding the book he was reading. He looked quite pleased with himself.

“One thousand in unmarked bills and you wear that worn-through Brewers T-shirt to bed for a week, and your secret’s safe with me,” he told Rosie out of the side of his mouth as Poppy walked into the room.

“I can’t find any of my nightgowns,” Poppy said.

“I think they’re all in the dryer, sweetie.” Penn smiled the smile of the innocent.

Poppy wandered off to the laundry room and came back two minutes later in her flamingo nightgown. “Thanks, Daddy.”

“Sure, baby. What’d you do with your clothes?”

“Left them in a pile on the floor,” she admitted, then brightened, “but it’s my birthday.”

“Then you get a pass.” He kissed her good night. “Have fun up there. Don’t stay up too late, or you’ll be too tired for Mickey Mouse pancakes in the morning.”

Poppy raced upstairs to start year number seven.

“Thank you,” Rosie breathed. She closed her eyes. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“No problem,” said Penn. “You get a pass too.”

And she thought: just that simple. And she thought: problem solved. But the problem was just beginning.


Rosie imagined she’d have a year—until Poppy turned eight—to recover, but Poppy and Aggie had discovered sleepovers to be even better than their chapter books purported. Having broken the parental seal, they could no longer be deterred. Rosie’s reprieve lasted all of a week, and this time was worse because this time was at Aggie’s house. At Aggie’s house, Penn couldn’t spirit all Poppy’s sleepwear into the laundry, not that that was likely to work again at home either. At Aggie’s house, Rosie couldn’t barge in if necessary with some absurd but (alas) believable motherly bullshit like “At our house, we change in private.”

Rosie wondered if it was too late to invoke a rule that Friday was the Sabbath and they should all go to shul rather than attend sleepovers. Penn thought it probably was. In fact, Penn had a whole different point, which was that Rigel and Orion were going to the movies with Larry and Harry, Ben was playing miniature golf with the rest of the debate team, and Roo was highly unlikely to emerge from the basement under any circumstances. If Poppy were sleeping next door, they’d essentially have the house to themselves for the night, and since Rosie was walking around strategically naked all the time, he had some thoughts as to what they might do with it.

While Penn made this case and Rosie panicked, Poppy packed. The fact that she was going just next door didn’t mean packing wasn’t part of the ritual. Poppy packed Alice and Miss Marple. She packed two games, a bottle of green glitter toenail polish, and a bag of Orion’s costumes in case they wanted to play dress-up. To this modest assemblage, Rosie added a pair of underwear, a skirt, a T-shirt, a nightgown, and a toothbrush with the weepy foreboding of a mother sending a soldier off to war.

She sat Poppy down on her bed then kneeled at her feet. This time, she was a little better prepared. “When you change into your nightgown tonight, baby, you need to do it somewhere private. You know?”

“Yeah?” Poppy didn’t sound sure.

“Sweetheart, Aggie doesn’t know you have a penis, and she would probably be really confused to see it, so you either have to tell her or just excuse yourself and go into the bathroom and change.”

“Okay,” said Poppy.


“Which what?”

“Which do you prefer? Should we tell Aggie? She’s such a good friend, baby. You could tell her, and then she’d know, and everything would be fine. You could decide to tell other friends too, or if you told Aggie not to tell anyone else, you know she wouldn’t.”

“What about Nicky?” Barely a whisper.


“Remember how Nicky used to be my best friend and then he found out about me, and he was so grossed out he tried to shoot Daddy?”

Rosie rocked back on her heels and waited for the breath to return to her lungs. How had Poppy’s memory twisted that story into this? And when? How long had she been carrying this version around? “Oh, sweetheart, no. Nicky was your friend. He was little, but he loved you in his way. It was his father who didn’t understand. Nicky didn’t try to shoot Daddy. Nicky’s daddy didn’t even try to shoot Daddy.”

“But after he found out, he didn’t want to be my friend anymore.”

Rosie nodded and said nothing. This wasn’t entirely untrue. And what was true was probably even harder to understand.

“What if Aggie doesn’t want to be my friend when she finds out I’m really a boy?”

“Are you really a boy?” Rosie asked gently.

“No.” The first sure thing out of Poppy’s mouth so far. “I’m not, Mama.”

“No, you’re not. So Aggie won’t think that. We can explain it to her anytime. We can go over right now and tell Aggie together what a wonderful, brave, amazing little girl you are.”

“I don’t want her to think there’s anything weird about me.”